Douglas Adams wasn't a born novelist, after all - he was a radio producer, scriptwriter and general gadfly about town whose enormous, but accidental, success with the radio show The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy obliged him to become a novelist.
As a novelist, he certainly had some nice ideas, a keen eye for social observation, and an idiosyncratic - definitely witty - turn of phrase which sustained itself for the 120 odd pages of the penguin paperback, but had thoroughly worn out its welcome by the end of the second instalment. And there it really all should have ended.
Instead Adams was compelled (no doubt for financial reasons) to promulgate further, increasingly smug and vapid, instalments of the Hitch-Hiker's series, two fully fledged Dirk Gently novels (again, the idea was good, execution irritating as hell), and with each the sense grew that Adams spent far too much time engineering clever-clogs grammatical constructions, and not nearly enough time concentrating on the novel he was trying to write. Instead of murdering his own darlings, Adams smothers the readers with them instead.
Thereafter, career as a novelist seemed to die off, to be succeeded by a unremarkable career of op-ed pieces for broadsheets and computer magazines, together with creation of various pieces of software and computer games. These were the lofty heights attained by such an apparently gifted writer.
This posthumously published book anthologises the post Dirk Gently aspect of his career. I can save those of you who have not caught up with Douglas Adams since Zaphod Beeblebrox a few wasted hours here: You've not missed much.
Just two pieces are worth the paper they're written on; one is a plea for a new global standard universal AC adapter for all electrical appliances, the other is a lengthy ex tempore speech in which Adams, without recourse to his irritating brand of wit, sets out his extremely convincing, well-composed views on religion and atheism. Given my views on his textual over-engineering, I think it is no accident that this piece, which stands head and shoulders above anything else in this book, was spoken on the hoof, apparently without notes.
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The original intention of The Salmon of Doubt was a Dirk Gently novel. Adams commented that some of the ideas he developed inSalmon of Doubt were not really working within a Dirk Gently framework. Those ideas would have been salvaged, undergoing necessary changes on the way, and put into a sixth Hitchhiker's book; as he thought that the last book in the series, Mostly Harmless, was a very bleak book and wanted to finish on a slightly more upbeat note.
The plot, set a few weeks after the events in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, involves Dirk Gently refusing to help find the missing half of a cat, receiving large amounts of money from an unknown client, and then flying to the United States. Dirk pays a visit to Kate Schechter (who had first appeared in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul) and ...